“Dogs are present-oriented — they don’t live in the past or future,” dog trainer Nathan Woods tells me. “They adjust much quicker than a person can. I’ve had dogs from incredible pasts, like a Cambodian abused dog, that I succeeded in rehabilitating. Dogs are present. There are no problems in the present.”
I cross paths with the very affable Nathan on my daily walks along State Street. At first, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me, for I’d see Nathan with a different dog every day. “I do 25,000 steps a day,” he laughs. “I’m booked all day, every day. With dog training I get to see this whole spectrum of people.” He also owns the Loose Pooch Dog Club on State Street, which is a daycare facility and pet store.
“Dogs are the animals you can communicate with the most,” he says. “I see what they give to people. Most people are educated but not present. Dogs are present but not educated. If we could trade those traits, we’d all be happy.”
Nathan genuinely loves what he does, and enjoys dispersing wisdom that’s rooted in his benevolent observation of the canine species. “No matter what dog you bring home,” he says, “within one week, you will love him or her.”
Nathan discovered his life’s passion when he was 10 years old. He started formal dog training at the Richmond Dog Training Center in Virginia. By 11, he’d become an instructor there, working three days a week and gaining the nickname Doogie Howser.
“We trained about 300 dogs a year,” recalls Nathan, who taught the pets of his first, third, and fifth grade teachers. His mentor, Ben Johns, who had a male champion Boxer, gave Nathan the pick of the litter when he was 13. “I trained and raised my first champion Boxer, Michaela,” he remembers. “It was home bred.”
By the time he was 18, Nathan wanted to become a professional dog trainer and went on the road. He interned in Pinson, Alabama for a few months, working with the number two Boxer in the state.
“At 20, I understood that, no matter where you live, you have to work your hardest,” he says. So he moved to California in May 1991 with his only possession, a 1987 Toyota 4Runner. “When you move 3,000 miles with no possessions, you’re present,” he says.
He’d never heard of Santa Barbara. “I stopped and saw a sign for the S.B. Zoo and was enthralled,” he explains. “I saw people on East Beach playing volleyball wearing ties. This is how I want to live!”
It wasn’t easy, but he stayed true to himself and heeded the signs. For instance, he needed $920 to move into a place, and he had $950 in his pocket. “If I can only make it for one week,” he thought, “it’d be a good vacation.”
But he found a job the very first day at the former Pet House, where he worked for two years. There were 48 aquariums there. “I literally cleaned 48 tanks to make ends meet,” he explains. “I could work around the clock.” He needed to make more money in order to go to college, so he put up flyers about dog training — and every flyer he posted led to a job.
In 2001, he started Santa Barbara Pet Services, setting up and maintaining aquariums at homes and businesses as well as training dogs, pet-sitting, and pet-exercising. He attended SBCC and CSU-Channel Islands, where he graduated in 2006.
In 2009, he bought the Loose Pooch. “It was definitely the next step,” Nathan explains. “It’s taught me a lot about business.” His wife, Caiti, helps with the administrative side. They live on the Mesa, and share their home with a Chocolate Lab, a Pomeranian, and a Chihuahua.
“My work is a hobby gone mad,” Nathan acknowledges. I ask him why he’s so good with dogs. “I’ve always had a knack for it,” he responds. “I can direct my emotions. It’s good to be calm — leave any anxiety or stress behind. Dogs feed off that emotion.” He always challenges his pupils but never discourages them, preferring to build on each success. “It’s all about making adjustments,” he says.
Nathan Woods answers the Proust Questionnaire.
On what occasion do you lie?
I spend most of my days working one on one with dogs. Because of that, I don’t often find myself in a position where I would be anything but honest.
What do you most value in friends?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Joseph Campbell, who coined the term “follow your bliss.” I am lucky enough to get to follow my bliss every day.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’m very proud that I’ve been able to live and work in Santa Barbara for almost 20 years and to be recognized as among the community’s top dog trainers. Although I get great satisfaction from all of the dogs and owners I’ve worked with, the most gratifying have been the abused and rescued dogs I’ve been able to give stability to. I’m also very proud to have trained a number of dogs to achieve the highest obedience and responsiveness awards in this industry.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
When I am fully engaged in one of my hobbies. These usually include animals and being out in nature. I love competitively showing dogs, skiing, and scuba diving.
What do you like most about your job?
That I get to work with dogs all day and help pet owners bring out the best in their dogs.
Who do you most admire?
People that train and handle search and rescue dogs, police dogs, and military dogs.
What is your greatest fear?
Not having enough time to accomplish all of my life goals.
What is your greatest extravagance?
When I get into a hobby, I tend to get all the gear that goes with it.
What is your current state of mind?
Optimistic. I have lots of projects in the works both personally and professionally.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Enthusiasm and passion for life.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
A lack of compassion, especially towards animals.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Grit and perseverance.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Fido sit, Fido heel, Fido down!” I do spend most of the days training dogs.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I was a bit more handy around the house. I am very quick to hire help even for small fix-it projects.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Because my work is my biggest hobby, I have a hard time slowing down and taking a break.
Where would you most like to live?
Santa Barbara! The day I arrived here, I knew I had found my paradise.
What is your most treasured possession?
A harmonica that belonged to my late father. I have a lot of fond memories of him playing the harmonica.
Who makes you laugh the most?
I am very easily entertained. Most people make me laugh.
What is your motto?
Never give up.